Swapping health care insurance companies has enabled the Altoona Water Authority to siphon off 1 percent of its proposed sewer hike for 2012 to 11 percent.
Water rates will remain at 2011 levels.
The sewer increase will raise the wastewater bill by $7.12 for a user of 10,000 gallons a month - the national average - bringing it to $72.09.
Such a customer's total monthly water and sewer bill will be $163, according to Ron Becher, the authority's director of billing.
This year's sewer increase is part of a four-year plan to raise sewer rates a total of 58 percent, mainly to repay approximately $51 million borrowed for the ongoing rehabilitation of the authority's two sewer treatment plants.
Mandated for protection of Chesapeake Bay, the upgrades are costing $64.5 million.
The sewer hike for next year would have been 12 percent, as staff requested in a budget meeting earlier this month, except for the authority's switch from Highmark Blue Cross to UPMC Healthcare, said controller Gina DeRubeis.
Management discussed the switch with the union, which was OK with it, according to authority General Manager Mark Perry.
"The plan is the same," Perry said. "[Only] the carrier isn't."
That switch saved a total of $245,000, because the UPMC premium costs will decrease by $124,000, in contrast to a big Highmark premium increase, according to DeRubeis.
"That's big," said board member Tom Martin.
"Good job," said board member Patrick Dumm.
For a user of 5,000 gallons a month - the average for authority customers - sewer bills will increase by $3.72 to $37.56, according to Becher.
For the minimum user of less than 1,668 gallons a month, sewer bills will increase $1.44 to $14.50.
For a large user of 2.2 million gallons a month, sewer bills will go up $1,482 to $15,000.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.